A new research study by the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI) has found that two cups of kopi (traditional Singapore coffee which is higher in caffeine) can reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease (PD) by four to eight times in people with Asian gene variants linked to the condition.

PD is the fastest growing neurodegenerative condition globally, with more than 8,000 people living with the disease in Singapore. These findings suggest that lifestyle modification can potentially help prevent PD.

"Caffeine is known to have a potential protective effect against PD and other neurodegenerative conditions," shared the study's Principal Investigator, Professor Tan Eng King, Deputy Chief Executive Officer (Academic Affairs) and Senior Consultant, Neurology, National Neuroscience Institute (NNI).

The study has shown that caffeine can significantly cut the risk of PD and level the playing field for Asians who are genetically at higher risk of PD and are currently symptom-free, explained Prof Tan.

How the study was conducted

The study, involving 4488 participants, showed that those with Asian specific genetic variants have a 1.5 to 2 times higher risk of developing PD. Up to 10 per cent of the Singapore population carry one of two known Asian gene variants, which occur most frequently in East Asians.

Research participants completed a validated caffeine intake questionnaire, which found that the daily average caffeine dose intake of study participants was 448.3mg among PD cases and 473.0mg in the healthy controls. This is the equivalent of 4 to 5 cups of Western style brewed Arabica coffee (235ml per cup) or two cups of traditional Singapore kopi made from Robusta coffee beans – which have a higher caffeine content than Arabica coffee beans.

While the protective benefits of caffeine also appeared to increase with higher doses, those who drank less than 200mg of caffeine per day still cut their risk of PD. In general, 400mg of caffeine a day is regarded as a safe intake amount for most healthy adults.

Referencing another recent study by NNI, which showed that 26 per cent of the local older population exhibit mild parkinsonian signs, Prof Tan said that these findings are a positive step forward in the fight to prevent this disabling condition.

"This research has important implications for the prevention of PD, especially in countries like Singapore where the Asian gene variants are common," shared Prof Tan. "Tea and coffee are readily available and culturally accepted in most Asian societies. Consuming caffeine within normal limits offers an easy, pleasant and sociable way for people to potentially reduce their risk of PD."

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